Leading article: An election that exposes Germany's sharp divisions

Angela Merkel's new coalition may be less radical than many imagine

Share
Related Topics

On the face of it, the result of Germany's general election delivers a good deal for the outside world to welcome. For one thing, it spells continuity. The "grand coalition" is no more and Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats have opened coalition talks with the economically liberal Free Democrats. But whatever the shape of the administration that emerges from these negotiations, we know that Ms Merkel will remain as Chancellor and that many ministries will stay in the same hands.

This means there are unlikely to be any sudden destabilising shifts in German foreign policy. One of the threatened consequences of a centre-left coalition was a premature withdrawal of German forces from Afghanistan. That is most unlikely to happen now, to the relief of Germany's Nato allies.

On the face of it, the formation of a centre-right coalition also promises economic reform in a country of crucial importance to the European and global economy. Ms Merkel's new partners, the Free Democrats, campaigned on a bold programme of simplifying and cutting taxes, reforming the sclerotic labour market and easing the burden of regulation on business. Such a reform programme would help to set free some of Germany's stifled economic potential. And by stimulating domestic consumption it should also help to shift the economy away from its traditional reliance on exports for growth. This would help reduce one of the destabilising imbalances that have afflicted the global economy over the past decade.

The election result also appears to promise more dynamic government. This is, after all, the coalition partnership that Ms Merkel favoured. A common belief is that, unbound from the shackles of a centrist coalition, the true reforming Ms Merkel will assert herself. But we should be wary of assuming that the Chancellor is about to be set free to follow her free-market instincts.

For one thing, Germany emerges from this election a sharply divided nation. The Social Democrats certainly did appallingly, gaining less than a quarter of the popular vote. But we need to be clear about why this was. It was less because the SPD's policies were rejected than the fact that it was regarded by many voters as tainted by its role in the coalition. Moreover, the radical leftist Linke party and the Greens performed well. The left might be divided in Germany, but it is certainly not in retreat.

Nor was this election a great victory for the CDU, despite the widespread personal popularity of Ms Merkel. In fact, the party posted one of its worst performances since the Second World War. This result does not, in other words, amount to a powerful mandate for radical economic reform.

Another problem with the "Merkel unbound" theory is the assumption that the Chancellor is, at heart, an economic radical. In fact there is a wealth of evidence to suggest otherwise. In recent years Ms Merkel has consistently positioned herself as a consensus-seeking "mother of the nation", echoing concerns of ordinary Germans about the level of public debt and criticising "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism. It will be hard for her to throw all that into reverse by embracing a radical programme of deregulation and tax cuts.

We are clearer now as to what the leadership of Germany will look like in the coming years. But when it comes to what the second term of Ms Merkel's chancellorship will yield, we are, in many ways, as deep in uncertainty as ever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz